- Special Projects
Lindamae Maldonado discovered the truth about her birth family 10 years ago. For most of her life, she had no idea that she was born on Kalaupapa. Her biological parents were among thousands of people who suffered from Hansen’s disease, a widely stigmatized malady better known as leprosy, who were forced to live in a sort of internal exile on the isolated peninsula on Molokai.
When Maldonado was in her mid-fifties, one of her adoptive cousins suggested that Maldonado might have been born to Kalaupapa patients. (As it turned out, the cousin was a good friend of Maldonado’s biological aunt.)
Maldonado struggled to understand why the state took many children from their parents in Kalapuapa and then helped to hide their past from them. Maldonado’s transformed life trajectory has been at times illuminating and at others heartbreaking. She tracked down her mother on the peninsula, although she died in 2007 several years after they were reunited. Maldonado’s father, who left Kalaupapa before his daughter discovered the truth, died before she learned about him.
But Maldonado’s research has allowed her to map out a family tree of estranged family members, though she is still trying to track relatives down. One of her discoveries was Melvin Carillo, her 75-year-old half brother on her father’s side. They met in person three years ago and have become inseparable.
Civil Beat first wrote about Maldonado’s poignant story in 2011, but we recently sat down with Maldonado and Carillo in her Kapolei home to talk about her life in recent years. Among other things, Maldonado has completed a memoir about her life and the history of Kalaupapa. (She is looking for a publisher.) Edited excerpts of the interview follow:
CB: You found out about each other so late in life. What’s that like?
Maldonado: They (the Department of Health) just didn’t know anything about that disease, and they didn’t want the children to suffer. I understand that. There were over 7,000 children taken away. A lot of them — maybe 6,500 — were placed with family members or close family friends. The others, like me, were placed in foster homes.
My ex-husband would always push me to look for my real family, but I always said, ‘Why should I? They don’t want me. They threw me away! Why should I give them the opportunity of meeting me when they don’t want me?’ This is my way of thinking and it was ‘til the day I was found. And I hated my parents ‘til I met my mother. When I talked to my mother on the phone, the first thing she said was that she was sorry that she wasn’t able to be my mother. And I said, ‘No, I’m sorry. I’m sorry for hating you and my dad all these years.’ I never wanted to find them — never, never, never. Never. I hated them with everything that was in me.
Carillo: I was 10 years old in 1948 when my dad was taken away … You couldn’t stop them (state health officials). They grabbed him, and they took him. I didn’t know this then, but when my father came back, he told me, ‘They took me to the boat, they took me (near) this island, they threw me down.’ ‘Go swim’ (ashore), they said. That’s how they did it in Kalaupapa. When my father got to Kalaupapa he thought he was never gonna come home, so he divorced my mother. But who would ever think that when my dad went there, he had a girlfriend, and he had my sister? None of us thought that. When he came back from Kalaupapa, he explained this to my mother. But I still didn’t know about (my sister) because I was in the military. She didn’t meet me until 2010. Me, I was the last. I am the oldest and I was last to meet her.
That was the biggest hurt to me. My other sisters and I would play together. I never had that with her (Lindamae) … The oldest and the youngest. That’s my baby sister. We never had nothing together. I lost that, all that — the playing, the caring, the sharing. There was none of that for me and my youngest sister.
CB: How has meeting each other changed your lives and your efforts to find closure for the Lost Children of Kalaupapa?
Maldonado: We’ve been inseparable since (meeting) … I was giving it up because nobody wanted to help me. Nobody wanted to hear my story, the anger and the hurt I was going through — finding out at age 55 that I had another family. But he (Melvin) kept on pushing me.
My daughters have never met any of his (Melvin’s) kids, but one will be meeting him this Saturday. And my son on the mainland has never met his kids. He’s still in prison. They’re all ghosts to each other. We’re still trying to come together. It’s hard — it’s a hard journey. I had two other birth sisters (who have since died). I was the youngest. And I have had a hard time bonding with my sisters’ children. They’re not acknowledging me or accepting me as a friend. I just want us to come together as a Carillo family before anything happens to me or my brothers.
CB: Why is your son in prison?
Maldonado: He was at the wrong place at the wrong time. His friend and him beat up this guy. This guy lived for like six months and then he died, so he (my son) got second-degree murder. And he had just turned 19. He’s been in prison for 25 years.
He got involved with the Mexican mafia, so he got time added on. He’s in protective custody because two years ago he gave up the Mexican Mafia. They’ll let him come out in August.
I haven’t seen or talked to him in 12 years. He’s a grown man now, a grown man.
CB: If it weren’t for meeting each other, do you think your efforts to reunite families like yours would be where they are today?
Maldonado: I don’t know. I have so much mixed emotion. It felt like what I was doing — my goal for this journey — was going nowhere ‘cause nobody wanted to listen.
Carillo: I said, ‘You can’t let the other (lost children) down.’